Over the summer, the Mountain Pointe boys basketball team saw more than 27 points per game go East.
After two seasons, Jahii Carson, the Pride’s leading scorer as a freshman and sophomore, transferred to Mesa High School this summer.
That could put most programs in a bind.
But Pride coach Brian Fleming has been in dilemmas he has had no control over before.
Last season several of his key players spent more time in the athletic training room or in rehabilitation programs than on the court, where the Pride were 11-15.
“When Jahii left us this summer it was because he thought it was best for him and I agreed,” Fleming said.
Ice bags, bandages and crutches scare Fleming more than losing a shooting guard.
“Not making excuses, but injuries killed us last year,” Fleming added.
Sophomore power forward Israel Marshall broke his wrist, another big power forward, Ben DeMarr, had a bad knee and Michael Ramirez, who was the second leading scorer behind Carson as a freshman averaging more than 16 points per game, was also injured most of the season.
“Holy smokes, that’s 40 or 50 points a game,” Fleming explained. “Michael would have been good for 20.”
When the Pride beat rival Desert Vista at the end of the season last year they had eight players available.
“That was more frustrating than anything,” Fleming explained. “We just didn’t have the depth to combat the injuries. I hope we’re deep enough this year that if we lose one guy we can keep it up. We couldn’t do that last year.”
If the Pride can stay healthy this season Fleming feels they can surprise some teams in the restructured East Valley Region.
However, not right away.
Fleming and the Pride have to be patient a little longer because DeMarr, Davon Jones, Garrett Holle and Marshall are still involved in an undefeated football season that could continue through the championship game on Dec. 12.
“We’ve got six kids until then,” Fleming said, “so we’re going to be very thin until we get our football players back.”
It can make a difference.
Fleming recalled when he was coaching basketball at Tempe High in 1996 that he was expecting to have eight players off the Buffalos football team. But Tempe made a run right up to the championship.
“We were 2-9 before we got the football players back and finished 16-14,” Fleming recalled.
The Pride will likely be overlooked early in the season and that wouldn’t surprise Fleming.
“People forget we had all those injuries,” Fleming said. “This year Michael Ramirez will be the big X factor. He’ll be one of the better players in the conference this year, but people forgot he was injured. And Izzy (Israel) played in only two regional games last year.”
The Pride should get some muscle from the 6-foot, 185-pound Jones, too. He has run for 1,634 yards and 28 touchdowns on the football field this year and Fleming said he can be just as bruising on the court.
“He’s as good as anyone inside and he’s a guard,” Fleming added. “He’s just so big and physical no one can guard him.”
A move out of the Central Region – where the Pride faced Desert Vista, Corona del Sol and Basha – and into the redesigned East Valley conference will also give the Pride a new outlook.
“If we can stay healthy after these kids get back, we’ll be a fun team to watch,” Fleming added.